What do governments need to know to plan infrastructure better?

Enabling Better Infrastructure green paper response

In a rapidly changing world, the demand for better infrastructure is more pressing than ever. Countries around the globe face common challenges in the infrastructure lifecycle, including the need for efficient procurement processes, sustainable outcomes, and addressing global issues.  

To tackle these challenges head-on, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) launched the Enabling Better Infrastructure (EBI) programme in 2019. This multi-stage initiative aims to provide guidance and support for policymakers to prioritise and plan infrastructure that aligns with sustainable development targets.  

In May 2023, the EBI team launched a green paper providing updated guidance for helping governments strategically plan and prioritise infrastructure in a changing world. The guidance was developed with government, private sector, academia, and civil society experts.

It includes:  

  • Three-step process for setting up a strategic infrastructure plan
  • Supporting guidance to ensure governments can action the three-step process in any country
  • Self-reflection tool for helping government departments identify where to start and what initial work needs to be done to ensure they have the best chance of success

Stakeholders involved in the strategic planning and prioritisation of infrastructure were asked to respond to a consultation questionnaire to provide input on what governments need to know to plan infrastructure better.  

The South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP) took part in the consultation, providing comments based on the South West Vision 2050 document and its underpinning South West Integrating Net Zero Route Map.    

SWIP’s feedback was compiled by Professor Colin Taylor CEng FICE, academic sector representative on the SWIP Steering Group and ICE Policy Fellow for Sub-National Infrastructure Decarbonisation.

In summary, SWIP’s key comments include:  

The triple-loop learning model    

Central to the EBI framework is the version of the triple-loop learning model, which emphasises the importance of ‘Why?’, ‘What?’, and ‘How?’ in the planning process. ‘Why?’ builds mindset and sets purpose, ‘What?’ conceives the solution schema, and ‘How?’ enacts the schema to achieve real outcomes. Continuous feedback loops stimulate adjustments to these elements, ensuring a harmonised approach from purpose to strategy to action.  

Placing users and citizens first    

The success of any infrastructure project hinges on its ability to meet the desired life outcomes of users and citizens. The value perceived by these stakeholders directly impacts their willingness to invest in infrastructure services. Therefore, placing user or citizen outcomes as the primary principle in the EBI approach strengthens decision-making and fosters a long-term view, guarding against short-sighted political expediency.  

Collaboration and extended value chains  

To create effective and efficient value chains, all stakeholders must align and connect their contributions. The EBI framework recognises the importance of building a common mindset, purpose, and values, especially within the extended value chain. By including policy, legal, governance, and regulatory processes, actors can harmonise their actions across the value chain, ensuring success as a whole.  

Adapting for the future  

Recognising that the world is constantly changing, the EBI approach encourages regular self-assessment and reflection. As infrastructure planning is a long-term endeavour, policies and strategies must adapt with the same time constants. By continually reassessing foresight analysis and adjusting policy, the EBI programme can stay relevant and effective amidst shifting conditions.  

Overall, the EBI approach resonates with the independently developed philosophy and principles of SWIP’s work to date.  For more detail, download SWIP’s comments in full, including explanatory background slides.